Ghettoization and the Erosion of a Distinct Way of Life: The Seventh-day Adventist Experience

Ronald Lawson, Ph.D.  |  04 December 2018  |

Last week I introduced the readers of the Adventist Today website to a paper on the conflicts that had raged in the Adventist church in the USA in the late 1970s and early 1980s that was written by my friend, Dr Maren Lockwood Carden, and me in 1983. Today we uploaded the other paper we wrote together the same year. This was really a fun paper to write, about the processes within “Adventist ghettoes.” I am wondering whether you will feel that our thesis still has validity 35 years later? I am especially interested in the reactions of those of you who live, or have lived, in an Adventist ghetto.  Indeed, is this term still in common use? Please give me feedback if the paper suggests anything to you.

What we wrote as the paper’s abstract (summary, introduction) back then follows:

Seventh-day Adventists developed a distinct way of life and then reinforced it by forming geographically segregated communities, or “Adventist ghettos,” around institutions such as colleges, hospitals, and publishing houses established by the church. However, as the external environment became less hostile, and Adventist institutions became themselves less distinctive while at the same time they provided opportunities for upward mobility, a paradox emerged: the ghettos became the loci where the distinctly Adventist way of life was most strongly challenged and significantly eroded.

An examination of data concerning other segregated religious subcultures suggests that, while parallels are relatively few, Adventists do not stand alone in this experience. A model showing under what circumstances ghettoization has the effect of undercutting rather than reinforcing cultural distinctiveness is developed. Fundamental to the erosion of distinctiveness are (1) the prior erosion of those traits that were most significant in setting the group apart from the rest of society, (2) a belief system that allows for change in both belief and practice and that comes to incorporate major societal values, and (3) a situation where likely change agents remain present.

If you are interested in reading the paper, it is available to you here.  I also invite you to check out the variety of other papers I have uploaded there that address Adventism from a sociological point of view.


Ronald Lawson is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, and a sociologist studying urban conflicts and sectarian religions. He is retired from Queens College, CUNY, and now lives and works in Asheville, NC.

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